Posted on Mar 29, 2023

Club member Rajiv Mehta, for our in-person meeting on March 29, gave us a firehose-like overview of the mythology, history, and current state of India, the world’s largest democracy.  A native of India, Rajiv came to the US from his home in Mumbai (a city of some 22 million people built largely on a landfill) in 1973 but has made numerous trips back in the years since. 

Rajiv started his presentation by evoking the massive chaos and cultural shock of sights, smells, and sounds that accost the visitor, especially the first-time visitor, on arrival in India.  He quoted Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Premier, as saying that he then believed in God since only God could run India. 
So, what keeps India together?  Although Rajiv listed a number of different uniting features of the society (shared history, cultural diversity, nationalism, resilience, religion, and mythology), he focused on religion, mythology, and history.  In the past, India has been referred to as “Hindustan”, reflecting the dominance of the Hindu religion in the country (some 80% of the population is Hindu, 14% Muslim, the remainder other religions).  The constitution of the country, however, is secular and there have been Prime Ministers (the leader of the government) from several different religions. 
Rajiv made a distinction between religion and mythology.  The mythological base of Indian society is recorded or promulgated by millions of lines of verse developed over some 5000 years of history.  He quoted several scholars about the impact of myth including Stephan Hoeller (“Myth is truer than physical truth, Myth is truer than even intellectual truth,”) and Joseph Campbell (“Myth opens the heart and the imagination to the wonders of the universe and the mystery of existence. . . The myth is the public dream, and the dream is the private myth.”).  He then gave a (very) brief summary of two major recorded myths, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.  The Ramayana, consisting of some 24,000 verses, is the story of Ram (a manifestation of God) rescuing his wife from captivity in Sri Lanka.  The Mahabharata, including the much shorter Bhagavad Gita, is the discussion or interaction between man (represented by Arjuna) and god (represented by Krishna).  This led to the distinction that Hinduism is really a monotheistic religion wherein God has many (perhaps millions) of manifestations, each of which is worshiped as an independent representation of God – an approach called Henotheism. 
Historically, Indian civilization began in the Indus valley and spread both to India and to Persia.  Although timing is uncertain, this may be the oldest civilization in the world.  Over a period of several thousand years, the area was subjected to numerous successful invasions, especially the Mughal invasion (including the most successful rulers Akbar and Shah Jehan from the mid-1500s to the mid-1600s), ultimately followed by the British who were present for some 200 years and dominant for some 100 years, ending with Indian independence in 1947.  The independence movement was led by three individuals, Gandhi (a highly educated lawyer who assumed the persona of a villager), Nehru (who became the first Prime Minister of India) and Jinnah (who, although not much of a practicing Muslim, became the first Prime Minister of Pakistan).  Independence was followed very quickly by the chaos and violence of the subdivision of the country into Hindu-dominant India and Muslim-dominant Pakistan.  Through much of its history, independent India was governed by the left-of-center Congress Party, the party of Nehru.  More recently, it has been governed by the right-of-center BJP, the party of Narendra Modi. 
In trade relations, India has tried to maintain a neutral stance, especially in the period from independence (1947) to 1982, although much of its trade was with the Soviet Union.  In 1982, the Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi (no relation to the revolutionary), visited with Ronald Regan, the President of the US, and Regan started pushing involvement of US industry in India.  Since 2015, the organization “National Invest India” has focused on promotion and facilitation of economic development in India including encouraging startups, innovation and consolidation of branches of Government, and digitization of Government.  In the 5000 years of Indian history, there have been three pillars of change in the country:  economic, social, and political. 
On the economic front, foreign direct investment, coming from some 162 countries and affecting 31 of the Indian states, has more than doubled in the last 90 months.  The national GDP is now some $3.5 trillion, making India the fastest growing large economy in the world and the 5th largest in the world, 2/3 of which is driven by domestic demand. 
Socially, the country has a human resource base of some 1.4 billion people, one billion under 35 years of age and an average age of 29.  India is projected to be the youngest country on the planet until 2070.  This resource base comes with big spending power. 
Politically, the country is the world’s largest democracy with some 960 million registered voters, of whom some 600 million cast their votes.  It has a large, complex voting system which is executed to Sigma 6 standards. 
Since the launch of Digital India in 2015, India has become the number one data consumer in the world, larger than US and China combined.  Some 41% of world real-time transactions happened in India, almost three times greater than China.  Digitization has been a driver in the remarkable growth of startups in the country, with some 452 registered startups in 2016. 
Rotary in India has grown dramatically since its first club in 1920, its some 200,000 Rotarians now making it the 3rd largest donor in the world.  In Rotary year 2021-22, there were over 91000 Rotary projects in India, representing the efforts of over 2100 clubs, over 8 million man-hours, and over $102 million in funds raised.  Rajiv concluded by mentioning common partnerships between Rotary clubs and the government, Rotary’s contributions to social causes, Rotary’s impact on youth, and Rotary’s expected continuing involvement in the improvement of the country. 
Questions:  What is the projection for India’s population?  It is expected to peak at around 1.7 billion in 2040 and then start trending downward. 
What is the status of caste in India?  First, “caste” is a Portuguese word referring to what amounts to four classes of people, similar to what could be found in most countries:  priests, warriors, business, and labor, later adding the “untouchables”.  Since most children take up the same “professions” as their parents, it has become an established hierarchy of hereditary positions. It is no longer as fixed as it has been in the past, so even an untouchable can reach the highest level of the government.